Discipline for Babies: 10 Alternatives to Spanking and Resources for Parents

Spanking is more harmful than helpful in teaching babies right from wrong.  Spanking and swatting babies leads to fear, less learning and aggressive behavior later in life. 

A recent study at the University of Michigan has noted that spanking babies is a common, yet very misguided attempt at disciplining babies. Around 30 percent of one year old babies are being spanked at least once a month by their caregiver.


positive parenting

The research also shows that families that choose spanking as a discipline method for babies and toddlers are more likely to end up needing assistance from child protective services later in the child’s life. The goal of discipline is to teach and guide, not harm or create fear.

On a practical level, swatting or hand smacking a baby does not help them learn, it is also very confusing to a baby. Here, what two parenting experts have to say:

The smacking of  a hand will not teach the baby that the planter shouldn’t be touched. Rather, he will likely be scared that he was hurt by his caregiver while he just was playing or exploring as his natural instinct is telling him.  -Andrea Nair, Psychotherapist Read more about the harmful effects of spanking here.

Spanking gives a confusing message, especially to a child too young to understand the reason for the whack. Parents spend a lot of time building up their baby or child’s sense of being valued, helping the child feel “good.” Then the child breaks a glass, you spank, and he feels, “I must be bad.” -Dr. Sears, Medical Doctor  Read more on 10 Reasons Not to Hit your Child. 

A baby’s job is to learn about his world. As a parent, your job is to keep your baby safe, and this can be done without spanking and harsh discipline. 

What are some positive ways to discipline a baby?

1.Child proof your house: Place dangerous items out of reach, gate stairs, lock up cleaners and chemicals. This way your baby can spend time playing and learning safely and you can be more at ease.

2.Provide safe toys: Have safe toys available for your child to reach. Placing a small basket in different rooms of the house is helpful, this way baby always has something they can have.

3.Create a safe space for baby:  If you feel overwhelmed and need a break, place baby in a safe space such as a crib and take a short break yourself. Drink a glass of water, count to 10 and then come back. Whatever your child has done, the lesson with not be lost in the time it takes to calm down first.

4.Invite baby to participate: Even young babies have the ability to follow directions and be cooperative. There are many ways we can involve babies in their own care. From inviting them to hold a diaper to letting them try to wipe up with a damp cloth, Babies are very capable. Read here all about what babies are able to do.

5.Ask for help:  If you feel your baby/toddler has done something wrong and it’s making you so mad you can’t deal with it without swatting or spanking, ask your partner to step in and give you a break.  (If you are alone, try option  #3)

6. Set up for success: Don’t leave your baby/tot alone with things he might break or destroy. For example, give your child board books to look at and not the softer flimsy ones. Don’t fill a cup to the top, instead fill just a few sips. Give few bites of food at a time. Don’t give your child access to paint and then leave him unsupervised…and so on.

positive parenting babies

Babies need positive attention and guidance to grow healthy and happy.

7. Get outdoors: Children need opportunities to release energy positively, otherwise they will do so in ways we find destructive. Active play such as digging in sand boxes, pushing carts, collecting rocks, swinging, sliding, walking and hiking are all important to your developing child’s well being.

8. Say NO and then give an alternative: Don’t be afraid to say NO to your child if they are doing something dangerous. Use a calm voice, place a gentle hand on their shoulder and then offer an alternative.  If your child becomes upset, listen and empathize, stay close but trust that you said no for a reason and your child will understand this soon enough. (If you are saying no very often, revisit #1 & #2) Read more about setting limits and setting limits when children become upset.

9.Play together:  Time spent together with your baby/tot creates a very special bond. From this bond comes trust, which leads to more cooperation and listening. Find activities that you can do together every day. This time together is vital to healthy development.

Moms and Dads can both help babies feel settled and calm.

Moms and Dads can both help babies feel settled and calm.

10. Use time in: If your baby is having a difficult moment, crying, biting, hitting, explain you are going to pick her up for a moment. Then sit somewhere, near her or with her in your lap and let her express her feelings (cry, whine) and wait a few moments for the upset to pass. Tantrums and tears are about releasing feelings of overwhelm, this is not something that can be swatted or punished away. The more your baby can trust you to listen to her upsets, the shorter these moments get.

Peace & Be Well,


More Reading and Resources for Positive Parenting Babies

50 Play Ideas for Babies – A fantastic collection of play ideas specifically for babies.

No-Spank Challenge – This program offers 30 days of learning alternatives and ways to be a more peaceful parent.

Stop Spanking.org – Find resources, links, videos, alternatives and much more to help you with parenting challenges.




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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a B.S. in Communication, is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator, and has completed several graduate courses in child development, psychology and family counseling. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.

3 thoughts on “Discipline for Babies: 10 Alternatives to Spanking and Resources for Parents

  1. I adore the ‘Time-In’ approach. Also the gesture of placing my hand upon my Daughter’s shoulder in conjunction to the response of my ‘No’ when I feel she is in danger is so vital. Providing suggestion of alternatives to her behavior following this action is golden. Thanks for the awesome reminders! :)

    • Meagan, thanks for sharing that. I think that gentle physical touch is really helpful to getting the message across in a caring way. Thank you so much for reading, best wishes on your parenting journey.

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